24 December 2009

The best of the decade

The Lord of the Rings

In the first decade of the new millennium, Hollywood finally got serious about the fantastic. Wizards, vampires, robots, superheroes, hobbits and other mythical creatures emerged as box office stars, while filmmakers showed they do not have to sacrifice artistic vision to entertain.

My picks for the best movies released from 2000 to 2009 are as follows.

1. The Lord of the Rings (2001-03)
Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s revered fantasy trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001; The Two Towers, 2002, The Return of the King, 2003) stands as one of the great achievements in film history—grand, thrilling, heartwrenching pictures unlike any others. From the stunning visuals to the assured storytelling to the impeccable casting, Jackson maintains complete command of the sprawling tale (surpassing 11 hours if you watch the extended versions), his vision direct and true.

The top 9 of '09

The year drawing to a close has not been the most memorable one at the movies. The biggest blockbuster of 2009 was by far the worst movie I had the misfortune of seeing (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). But Hollywood also showed it still knows how to entertain on a level that only it can.

I have not yet had a chance to see many of the films making the rounds as awards season heats up (including The Hurt Locker, Precious, Up in the Air), so those will be considered as they expand into wide release or become available for home viewing.

Here are the best of what I have seen in 2009.


1. Avatar

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

Purists beware: Sherlock Holmes bears the stamp of its director, Guy Ritchie, much more so than that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author who created the famed British sleuth and his trusty sidekick, Dr. Watson.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing—Ritchie’s film is an entertaining romp through 1880s London with just enough of the grit and grime he typically brings to his modern British gangster movies (which include Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch) to counteract the largely computer-generated cityscape.

As the title character, Robert Downey Jr. doesn’t look the part and, in fact, he doesn’t even play the part as written by Conan Doyle. Important characteristics are there—Holmes’s deductive reasoning, his focus on seemingly insignificant details, his ability to form a short biography after briefly observing an individual, his need for constant brain activity (he fills the void between cases with drink, as opposed to morphine and cocaine as in Conan Doyle’s stories), his ongoing game of one-upmanship with Scotland Yard.

16 December 2009


Filmmaker James Cameron proclaimed himself the “king of the world” when “Titanic,” which had already sailed to the top of the all-time box office, won 11 Academy Awards. Twelve years later, in his first narrative film since then, he may not be the king of THE world, but he’s certainly the king of A world.

That would be Pandora, the alien setting of “Avatar,” a movie that raises the special effects bar to a new level. It’s actually a moon dominated by lush forests, floating mountains and exotic creatures—all bathed in a gorgeous neon glow and all the work of the computer wizards of Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning effects house, WETA Digital. The level of detail is unprecedented. It is not just pretty scenery for us to “ooh” and “ah” at—Pandora is alive. It looks a feels like a real place with real inhabitants.

Did You Hear About the Morgans?


The opening of “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” sets the tone for the entire film.

Simple white titles appear on a black screen. We hear the voice of Hugh Grant as Paul Morgan leaving voice mail messages for his estranged wife, Meryl. Separated for three months, he begs for a chance to see her and talk to her.

Since the movie is ostensibly a romantic comedy, I presume this is meant to be funny, especially when Paul runs out of time on his first message, then calls back and continues. The problem is, I couldn’t picture a desperate husband while I heard this; I saw Grant sitting in a studio, reading from the script.

The Blind Side


Question: When is a sports movie not about sports?

Answer: When the story behind the sports is as compelling as the life of Michael Oher, currently a starter in his rookie season with the Baltimore Ravens.

Based on the 2006 book of the same name by Michael Lewis, “The Blind Side” is an overwhelmingly sentimental movie. But thanks to earnest storytelling by director John Lee Hancock (“The Rookie”) and a knockout performance by Sandra Bullock, its emotions are honest and earned.

Life was hard for young Michael Oher, known for obvious reasons as “Big Mike.” One of 13 children born to a drug-addicted mother, he grew up in Tennessee knowing nothing other than poverty, receiving little education and spending time both in foster homes and on his own.

31 October 2009

Bram Stoker's Dracula


I was 13 in 1992 when I saw "Bram Stoker’s Dracula," and it changed my life.

Francis Ford Coppola’s take on the classic 1897 vampire novel might not be the definitive film version that its title suggests (another studio owned the rights to the simpler title "Dracula"), but it is a gorgeous motion picture, an immersive experience that presents the infamous count and his tale as never realized before.

Coppola, stinging from the critical and fan backlash against "The Godfather: Part III" (1990), originally intended his "Dracula" to be a small, low-budget film with the goal of winning him some measure of independence from the Hollywood studios. His ambition, though, could not be contained, and his little movie grew into a $40-million, centuries-spanning epic.



A movie titled Zombieland brings a certain set of expectations with it. There will be zombies—lots of ’em. There will be blood—lots of it. And there should be a healthy dose of campy humor. What you do not expect is character-based comedy and genuine human emotion.

We get all of that and more from Zombieland, the debut feature by director Ruben Fleischer. As soon as the beautifully filmed slow-motion opening title sequence—set to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”—starts to roll, it’s apparent that this is far from your run-of-the-mill, B-movie horror flick.

When the movie opens, the zombie apocalypse, caused by a virus, already has occurred. There are survivors, and two of them—obsessive-compulsive, cowardly, college-age Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, Adventureland) and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a free-wheeling cowboy-type for whom zombie-killing is a sport—meet on the road. They link up with the wily sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), and make for Pacific Playland, a Southern California amusement park rumored to be zombie-free.

The Invention of Lying

The Invention of Lying

You don’t realize how important lies are until you can’t tell them. I’m not talking about deceitful, hurtful lies that can ruin relationships and lives, but the small fibs and half-truths that we all use—often unconsciously—to brighten each other’s days.

The Invention of Lying takes place in a world very much like our own, except that no one has ever told a lie. Instead, everyone always says exactly what they’re thinking, no matter how embarrassing or mean it might be. Without the ability to lie, there is no imagination, no fiction. Lecture Films, where Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) is a screenwriter, produces movies featuring a single actor reading stories from history, such as Napoleon 1812-1813 and The Invention of the Fork.

29 October 2009


-->Though there is not a single original idea in Surrogates, the ideas and issues it presents are deep and intriguing enough that it could have been worth 88 minutes of your time. “Could” is the operative word, which means that it is not.

Instead of exploring what it means when, in the near future, people spend virtually their entire lives in their homes, living vicariously through robot surrogates, or “surries,” that they send out into the world, director Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3) and screenwriters Michael Ferris and John Brancato (adapting a graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele) wallow in an uninvolving and underdeveloped whodunit.

06 September 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds
is a war film and revenge picture, but writer-director Quentin Tarantino's muse is what it's always been
the movies. Not just a handful of classics and obscure pictures that only a lifelong film geek like Tarantino would love, but the entire world of cinemaglamorous movie stars, the grand movie palaces of yesterday, star-studded movie premieres, even the film stock.

In Tarantino's mind, movies are all that matter
even history is tossed aside if it doesn't suit his needs. Only he could make a film about a group of Jewish-American soldiers scalping Nazis behind enemy lines and turn it into a love letter to the movies. The pure, unadulterated joy that permeates all of his films and a continued knack for creating memorable characters and cracking dialogue make Inglourious Basterds one of his best.

30 August 2009

District 9


It’s hard to remember a film with a more bleak outlook on humanity than the sci-fi tale
District 9.

Directed by Neill Blomkamp, whose resume includes only commercials, music videos and the 2005 short Alive in Joburg, upon which District 9 is based, and produced by Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings), the movie offers a frightening take on human nature and what might occur if aliens ever make it to Earth.

The setup is genius. About 20 years ago, a giant spaceship parked itself here—not above New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, but Johannesburg, South Africa. It hovered there until humans forced their way inside and found the insect-like alien inhabitants, more than a million malnourished worker drones, their leadership gone and now lacking the ability to make their own decisions.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Though I was not hopeful, I wanted to like
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. G.I. Joe—both the toys and cartoon—was a big part of my childhood.

But watching the movie is like watching a prequel to a film that doesn’t exist. Director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) and his three writers spend the whole movie trying to sell us on a sequel, but they neglected to make this one good enough for us to care about what happens next.

G.I. Joe, which always was a very American fighting force in the toy line, animated series and comic books, is now a multinational, top-secret military group. Led by General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), its base of operations lies beneath the deserts of Egypt (a lot going on down there in the Hasbro universe). The bad guys, led by Scottish arms dealer McCullen (Christopher Eccleston), are holed up underneath the polar ice cap. My head hurts thinking about the construction costs.

Funny People

Funny People

In a movie called
Funny People, you expect the people in it to be, well, funny. There are flashes of it—the natural comedic talents of the people involved won’t stay hidden forever—but maybe the inherent unlikability of the characters is part of the point of Judd Apatow’s third directorial effort.
The movie concerns George Simmons, an Adam Sandler-like comedy superstar, conveniently played by Adam Sandler, whose esteemed resume includes titles like Merman and Re-Do, in which his head is placed on a baby. George is a miserable, manipulative man who sleeps with a different girl (or two) every night and has an ego that desperately needs regular attention.

Then a doctor diagnoses him with a form of leukemia and ... nothing changes. He uses his likely fatal illness to reconnect with Laura (Leslie Mann), the one who got away years earlier because he cheated on her. She’s now married, with two kids.

18 July 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

There is so much to like about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the best movie yet based on J.K. Rowling’s insanely successful books.

Let’s start with the title character and the actor who plays him, Daniel Radcliffe. For the first time, Radcliffe gets to loosen up and have a little fun, even as the tale grows darker than ever, a sense of dread hanging over Hogwarts as pervasive as the ever-present gray clouds.

It’s the first time “wooden” isn’t the word that immediately springs to mind when thinking about Radcliffe’s acting. A real chemistry has developed among him and his two principal co-stars, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson.

30 June 2009

Public Enemies

Public Enemies

"I like baseball, movies, good clothes, fast cars and you. What else do you need to know?"

As portrayed by Johnny Depp in Michael Mann's Public Enemies, Depression-era criminal John Dillinger was efficient in everything he did, whether it was a bank robbery, jailbreak or sweeping a lovely young woman off her feet—in and out of a bank in one minute, 40 seconds; calmly walking to a getaway car while bullets fly around him; winning the heart of Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard, the French Oscar-winner looking quite at home in 1930s Chicago) with simple, direct statements like the one quoted.

With Depp's star power behind him, Dillinger is a sort of prince of thieves, a hero to the public who steals from the banks that they believe stole from them. A frightened teller empties her pockets during one robbery. "We're here for the bank's money, not yours. Put it away," Dillinger instructs her.

26 June 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

With the possible exception of Spice World (1997), I cannot think of a movie that launches a more brutal assault on the eardrums than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

The scraping and screeching of metal on metal is the pervading sound, interrupted only by an endless barrage of gunfire and explosions, punctuated by a bombastic musical score and a few bad rock songs. Characters don't talk; they shout and scream and occasionally bellow—they have to, to be heard over the deafening soundtrack.

There are no quiet scenes, not even a moment for the audience to catch its breath.

The Proposal

The Proposal

The romantic comedy is perhaps the most formulaic of all movie genres. Boy meets girl. One annoys the other, they bicker constantly and manage to fall in love at the same time. An obstacle presents itself, but they overcome it to live happily ever after.

In The Proposal, nothing happens that we don't see coming.

Though aspiring writer/editor Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds) loathes everything about his demanding boss, Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock), we know—without the slightest doubt—that they will be in love before the credits roll.

03 June 2009

The Hangover

The Hangover

Three men wake up in their Vegas hotel room—no, make that their luxurious, $4,000-a-night Caesar’s Palace suite. The carnage is complete: Piles of empty beer cans and bottles. A smoldering leather chair. Plastic blow-up dolls in the Jacuzzi. An ottoman hanging from the ceiling. A wandering chicken. A tiger in the bathroom. And somebody put a baby in a corner.

Sounds like one heck of a bachelor party.

Stu (Ed Helms), a dentist, is missing a tooth. Phil (Bradley Cooper) is wearing a hospital bracelet. Alan (Zach Galifianakis) has no pants, though, unfortunately, this is not so uncommon an occurrence.

A problem: Doug (Justin Bartha), the groom, is missing.

A bigger problem: None of the other three remembers what happened last night.

02 June 2009



No one in the history of film—not an actor, director, writer, studio or production company—has a track record to match that of Pixar Animation Studios. Ten feature films, 10 huge successes, racking up nearly $5 billion (and counting) in worldwide box office grosses and near-unanimous praise from critics. They should give the Academy Award for best animated feature to Pixar as soon as it releases a new movie—no one else stands a chance.

Feature No. 10 is the newly-released Up, perhaps the most unlikely animation blockbuster yet.

Up tells the story of Carl Frederickson, of how, as a young boy, he meets Ellie and they bond over their shared admiration of the famous explorer Charles Muntz (voice of Christopher Plummer). We see their life together in a stunning, heartbreaking sequence (accented by Michael Giacchino's tender score) full of more love, joy and sadness than most other movies fit into their entire running times.

29 May 2009

Drag Me to Hell

The actress Alison Lohman is 29, six years removed from playing the 14-year-old daughter of Nicolas Cage in Matchstick Men, and she’ll probably still be able to pull it off a decade from now. She projects innocence and seems so delicate a mere touch might break her.

So while watching Drag Me to Hell, you can all but hear the mischievous cackling of director Sam Raimi and his trusted makeup artist Greg Nicotero as they drench her with blood and other, even less pleasant fluids, throw her into walls, turn her into a punching bag for an old gypsy—essentially subjecting her to one abuse after another through most of the movie’s 99 minutes.

28 May 2009

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

The director (Shawn Levy), writers (Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon), star (Ben Stiller) and several other actors (Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais) from Night at the Museum (2006) have returned for its sequel, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. No surprise then that what we get is more of the same—"more” being the key word.

That’s not such a bad thing in this case. The concept—a museum’s exhibits come to life each night—is flat-out cool (how much more fun would school field trips be?). That and the sheer likability of the returning cast and some of the new faces are enough to make the movie a pleasant enough way to pass 100 minutes on an uneventful weekend afternoon.

20 May 2009

Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation

It is telling that when McG, whose directing resume includes the two Charlie’s Angels movies, made his pilgrimage to James Cameron to ask for his blessing to make a fourth Terminator film, the writer-director of The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) refused.

The story was fully told after T2, its message one of hope for the future—“no fate but what we make for ourselves.”

Twelve years later, along came Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, under the direction of Jonathan Mostow. Now “Judgment Day,” the day the supercomputer Skynet becomes self-aware and declares war on the human race, is inevitable—optimism replaced by its opposite. You can see why Cameron wouldn’t want to be involved.

14 May 2009

Angels & Demons

Angels & Demons

Angels & Demons, the second film based on a novel by controversial author Dan Brown, is better than its predecessor, The Da Vinci Code (2006). But that’s not saying much.

Tom Hanks is back as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, and Ron Howard is again in the director’s chair working from a script co-written by Akiva Goldsman (with David Koepp).

The murder of a scientist experimenting with antimatter, the theft of said antimatter, the kidnapping of four cardinals (all leading candidates to become the next pope) and the threat of the antimatter being used as a bomb bring Langdon to the Vatican—at the request of the Roman Catholic Church, no less—to assist in the investigation. Though Brown wrote this novel first, the movie is positioned as a Da Vinci Code sequel and the church is aware of Langdon’s particular expertise as a result of his previous adventure. A secret society known as the Illuminati—of whom Langdon has extensive knowledge—appears to be behind the plot.

06 May 2009

Star Trek

Star Trek

“Space, the final frontier.”

Those are the famous first words of the narration heard at the start of every episode of the original Star Trek TV series. But that was the 1960s, and over the course of four decades, 10 feature films and four more TV series, Star Trek lost that sense of wonder. Boldly going “where no one has gone before” had gotten boring. The last movie, Star Trek: Nemesis (2002), grossed only $43 million at the domestic box office. The most recent TV series, Enterprise, became, in 2005, the first since the original to be canceled.

Paramount’s long-running cash cow appeared to have been milked dry.

Not so fast.

01 May 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

After the trilogy of X-Men films, I can't say I had any burning questions left regarding Wolverine, the mutton-chopped mutant who is a literal man of steel—er, adamantium—with razor-sharp claws that spring forth from his knuckles. In X2 (2003), he found not only the man responsible for fusing the metal to his skeleton and erasing his memory but also the place where it all went down.

Unless you're dying to find out exactly why he took the name "Wolverine" or how he got his stylish motorcycle jacket, you probably haven't thought too much about what had been left unsaid.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine then is really just an excuse to keep the big screen franchise rolling and introduce a few new mutants without the burden of explaining why some familiar faces have gone missing.

And you know what? I'm OK with that.

03 April 2009

A review I wish I had written

Actually, it's just the first paragraph of AP movie critic's Christy Lemire's review of Fast & Furious, which tells you all you need to know: "Noise, noise, noise. Crunched metal and shattered glass. More noise. Revving engines. Vin Diesel's giant head. Hot chicks in tight miniskirts. Even more noise. The end."

31 March 2009

News good and bad

First, the good ... Director David Cronenberg told MTV News that he is moving forward with a sequel to his superb 2007 film Eastern Promises. DO NOT follow the link if you have not seen the film, as it reveals a crucial plot twist. Without giving it away, the ending made the movie—though it was satisfying on its own—feel like a small part of a much larger story. When it was over, I wanted to see more of Viggo Mortensen's Nikolai and the Russian gangsters operating in London's underworld. Viggo and Cronenberg will have their hands full trying to top Eastern Promises, but given that they have made not one but two excellent films together (see also: A History of Violence), I think they will be up to the task.

Eastern Promises

Now for the downer ... Actor/musician Andy Hallett, best known as the green-skinned, karaoke-singing demon Lorne on the TV series Angel, died Sunday, of congestive heart failure at the age of 33. Apparently, he had been suffering from heart problems for the past five years, problems so severe that they had virtually ended his acting career. Andy was always such a warm presence on Angel, a show that went to some awfully dark places. He was far from a household name, but he had many fans (I'm one of them), who I'm sure are sending their thoughts and prayers to his family and friends.

Andy Hallett


Andy Hallett

The Haunting in Connecticut

The Haunting in Connecticut

The Haunting in Connecticut is "based on the true story," but that matters little to me. Wherever its origins lie, a movie lives or dies on its own merits. Even if the events depicted actually happened, a movie should be well acted, intelligently written and competently filmed to be worth your time and money.

Too often, I feel, movies—particularly in the horror genre (think The Amityville Horror)—use the "based on the true story" preface as a crutch, as if it somehow adds weight and importance.

Back to The Haunting in Connecticut.

23 March 2009



In Duplicity, writer-director Tony Gilroy's follow-up to his superb Michael Clayton (2007), nothing is what it seems. Always keep that in mind as twists and double crosses are doled out at every turn. It plays like a more sophisticated Ocean's Eleven, the extra heft coming from its corporate setting.

The lead roles of former MI6 operative Ray Koval and ex-CIA agent Claire Stenwick all but but cry out for movie stars, and Clive Owen and Julia Roberts fit the bill. The movie is at its best when they share the screen. There is an old Hollywood charm and chemistry to their verbal sparring, the banter and energy between them sizzling.

Roberts has appeared mostly in supporting roles this decade, so seeing her in a star turn now feels fresh again. Owen plays everything so slick and smooth that when he's rattled it's enough to do the same to the audience.

20 March 2009

I Love You, Man

I Love You, Man

The so-called “bromance” has become one of the more prevalent comedy subgenres. Producer-writer-director Judd Apatow has been its champion, bringing us classics like Superbad, along with more forgettable fare, such as Step Brothers and Pineapple Express.

The typical “bromance” follows the expected beats of a romantic comedy, only it’s not about the love between a man and woman, but the friendship of two men. They used to be called “buddy movies.” These films are, in fact, about love—in their own raunchy, staunchly heterosexual way. I Love You, Man, one of the best “bromances” to date, does not even try to hide from that.

The movie—which, like last fall’s Role Models, is not an Apatow production but feels like it is—begins with sensitive Los Angeles real estate agent Peter Klaven, played by The Great Paul Rudd, proposing to Zooey (Rashida Jones, formerly of “The Office”). She immediately shares the news with her closest friends, while Peter is content to call his parents the next day and tell his co-workers on Monday.

19 March 2009

Linkorama: 'I Love You, Man' edition

- The A.V. Club interviews Paul Rudd and Jason Segel.

- The New York Times profiles Paul Rudd.

- EURweb interviews Rashida Jones.

- Canada.com has a story on Jason Segel.

- "Is John Hamburg the new Judd Apatow?" asks The Los Angeles Times.

- MTV.com chronicles "The History of the Bromance."

- Geddy Lee of Rush talks to Entertainment Weekly about his band's appearance in the movie.

13 March 2009


I'm toying with the idea of picking random movies on DVD and reviewing them when I haven't seen a new release (maybe not so random; they will be movies I enjoy). We'll see if I have the time and motivation to do that. I can report that next week I will have a review of "I Love You, Man," another funny movie with the great Paul Rudd. Until then, enjoy these links ...

- Baltimore Sun movie critic Mike Sragow points out the similarities between Watchmen and The Incredibles, and explains why The Incredibles is the vastly superior film. I have to agree.

- Results from a contest in which entrants changed one letter in a movie's title and created a poster for it.

- An amusing, movie-related brief from The Onion.

- The A.V. Club interviews British comedian Russell Brand. I haven't seen his new standup special on Comedy Central, but he stole the show as rock star Aldous Snow last year in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

That is all.

11 March 2009


I am going to try to post here more often, even if it is just a collection of links I find interesting. Speaking of ...

- The A.V. Club has an interview with Nathan Fillion, star of the new ABC series "Castle." You might remember him from such TV series as "Firefly" and such movies as "Serenity," "Slither" and "Waitress."

- Another good one from The A.V. Club: an interview with Wes Craven, focusing mostly on "The Last House on the Left," both the 1972 original and the remake, which hits theaters Friday.

- The legal battle between novelist Clive Cussler and Crusader Entertainment over the "Sahara" script could end up costing him $28 million. Ouch. The Hollywood Reporter has the story.

- Watchmen screenwriter David Hayter is practically begging fans to see the movie again this weekend.

- Steven Spielberg is quietly finishing up his work on "Tintin," his much-discussed collaboration with Peter Jackson.

- Alex Proyas, whose new film "Knowing" hits theaters March 20, is guest blogging at /Film and taking a look back at "Dark City."

- Nominations for the Saturn Awards, which recognize movies and TV shows in the science fiction, fantasy, horror and action/adventure/thriller genres, have been announced. "The Dark Knight" and "Lost" received the most nods.

05 March 2009



Apparently, comic book fans have been waiting for a film adaptation of Watchmen for a long time. It’s been in various stages of development ever since DC Comics published the limited series, later packaged as a “graphic novel,” in 1986.

Written by Alan Moore (who refused to be credited on the movie due to his dissatisfaction with adaptations of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V for Vendetta) and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, “Watchmen” was hailed as revolutionary in the comic book world. It’s publication has been described as the moment when comic books “came of age.” In 2005, Time included it on its list of the “100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present.”

I know this because Wikipedia knows this.

23 February 2009

Oscar recap

81st Annual Academy Awards

The producers of the 81st Annual Academy Awards, presented Sunday night at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, promised big changes this year. And they mostly made good on that pledge.

Hugh Jackman, best known for portraying the surly mutant Wolverine in the X-Men movies but a song-and-dance man on the stage, was an inspired choice as host. His good nature and enthusiasm seemed to spread throughout the room from the moment he took stage. The show could have used more of him as it plodded on toward midnight.

No matter how many entertaining bits it has, the show is still too long, coming in this year at about three and a half hours—10 minutes longer than last year. Cutting an hour would make it a much more manageable length.

20 February 2009

Oscar preview

This year, the Oscars go to India.

Not literally—the 81st Annual Academy Awards will be presented Sunday night at the usual spot, the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. But the frontrunner for the top prize is Slumdog Millionaire, British director Danny Boyle’s film, set and shot in India, about a young man (Dev Patel) from the slums of Mumbai who becomes a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Nominated for 10 awards and having been honored repeatedly during the last few months (including best picture from the Golden Globes, best director from the Director’s Guild, best picture from the Producer’s Guild and best cast from the Screen Actor’s Guild), Slumdog is the safe bet for best picture, director and adapted screenplay Sunday night.

12 February 2009

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th

Sex, drugs, decapitation, a young woman burned alive—all before we even see the words Friday the 13th on the screen.

This re-imagining of the classic 1980 slasher movie has everything fans of the series would expect. And it’s made with more care and keeps a much firmer grip on reality than most of the sequels churned out throughout the ’80s.

Rather than a straight remake of the original Friday the 13th—we see Mrs. Voorhees (Nana Visitor) only in a short prologue, in which we learn she has killed all but one of the Camp Crystal Lake counselors following her son’s drowning and see her demise at the hands of the lone survivor—screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (Freddy Vs. Jason) borrow elements from several of the earlier movies. The result is a film that feels both new and familiar—an admirable achievement, whether you’re a fan of this kind of movie or not.

Welcome back, slashers

Jason Voorhees, everyone’s favorite machete-wielding, teenager-killing, masked madman, is back. And he’s joining other familiar faces—Leatherface, Michael Myers—at the slasher movie revival party.

Friday the 13th, a re-imagining of the 1980 film that introduced moviegoers to Camp Crystal Lake, hits theaters today, the latest in a long line of what Roger Ebert derisively refers to as “Dead Teenager Movies.”

The filmmakers, however, have deep affection for their source material.

“The greatest thing about the films was the experience of sitting in a theater with other people and being scared out of my mind,” producer Brad Fuller said of the previous Friday the 13th movies. “I went to a summer camp in Maine and one of the big reasons most people get so scared watching the films is because so many of us have had a summer camp experience or have gone camping.”

07 February 2009

The Wrestler

The Wrestler

What do you do when one thing is all you know? If you're actor Mickey Rourke or aging pro wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson, you keep doing it, even if no one is watching—and, in the Ram's case, even if it means putting your life on the line.

The parallels between actor and character in Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler" are uncanny. One ultimately finds redemption; for the other, it's difficult to say.

The enlightened among us will say pro wrestling is "fake." Indeed, much about Randy is fabricated. His bleach-blonde hair? The result of regular dye jobs. His bronzed skin? Tanning beds do the work. His muscles, still bulging two decades past his prime? A virtual smorgasbord of steroids runs through his veins. His real name? Robin Ramzinski.

31 January 2009


The Bat-Signal must be on the fritz.

How else to explain the snub The Dark Knight received last week from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when Oscar nominations were announced?

Sure, Heath Ledger is all but a lock to posthumously win best supporting actor for his maniacal turn as The Joker, and the Academy named The Dark Knight in seven other categories (art direction, cinematography, editing, makeup, sound, sound editing and visual effects). But look at the writing nominations and you won’t find the names Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan or David Goyer. Chris Nolan is missing from the best director list, as well.

The most glaring omission comes under best picture, where the competitors are The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which has a leading 13 nominations), Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader and Slumdog Millionaire.

16 January 2009

Gran Torino

Gran Torino

"Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn't have (messed) with? That's me."

Clint Eastwood, as the central character of Gran Torino, Korean war veteran/retired Ford worker/widower Walt Kowalski, snarls that warning to a trio of thugs menacing his neighbor, a friendly Hmong teenager named Sue (Ahney Her), but he might as well wear it around his neck on a sign for all to see.

Whether you're staring at him down the barrel of a shotgun or just happen to stray too close to his property as he sits on his front porch, cigarette in hand, cooler of Pabst Blue Ribbon and trusty yellow Lab at his feet, your day will be considerably more pleasant if you avoid him altogether—especially if you're one of the gangbangers who have all but taken over his Detroit neighborhood. They're everywhere—gangs of black, Latino or Hmong youths. It's hard on a bigoted old man like Walt.

08 January 2009

Bride Wars

Bride Wars

Guys, this one’s for the ladies. Of course, you can probably figure that out from the title.

All engaged men should take their fiancées to Bride Wars, which can serve as a primer on how not to behave as the big day approaches. As an engaged man, I can appreciate the movie on that level alone. That it has a fair share of laughs along the way is an added bonus.

Liv (Kate Hudson, who also takes a producer credit) and Emma (Anne Hathaway) seem like polar opposites. Liv is a successful attorney, a driven career woman who knows what she wants and is accustomed to getting it. Emma is a middle school teacher, polite and generous to a fault—she’s a pushover and those around her, especially fellow teacher Deb (a scene-stealing Kristen Johnston), take advantage of that trait.